When repeating an adjective for emphasis, is a comma required between both words?

... somewhere far, far away ...

... a cold, cold day ...

The spell checker on MS Word complains if there isn't one, but I'm not sure if it's correct or just lazily programmed.

  • 1
    without the comma, one may read it as a mistake (o, they typed the same word twice, how messy). I guess that is why Word complains about it. Often, when a word is repeated, the second time it is pronounced with a different intonation, e.g. it is stressed more. The comma can be seen as representing that shift in stress. I would always use the comma, except in set expressions that have come to be seen as one word (the turtle Mata Mata is one example, another in Greek (proi proi) would render as morning morning, meaning very early. – oerkelens Jun 1 '15 at 14:33
  • Was that an attempt to answer the question? – DougM Jun 1 '15 at 14:42
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    That was something that started as a simple comment on the perceived workinsg of word, that veered off into some highly opinionated ideas about using comma's. I don't think I can substantiate the comment well enough to warrant an actual answer :) – oerkelens Jun 1 '15 at 14:47
  • @oerkelens I agree with all you say. There are two similar-looking constructions; I'd only use the comma (but would use it) in the intensifier usage. From an earlier post: << The doubling of a word is known as reduplication. De Gruyter says that it is artificial to try to distinguish intensification ('a little, little grave') and attestation to the genuineness / prototypicality of an article ('coffee coffee'; 'the Woman woman') so this word covers both cases. A little, little grave is a truly little grave; coffee coffee is the real thing. >> – Edwin Ashworth Jun 1 '15 at 15:02

The Chicago Manual of Style, fifteenth edition (2003) agrees with Microsoft Word's punctuation checker. Here is the relevant paragraph in Chicago:

6.40 Repeated adjective. When an adjective is repeated before a noun, a comma normally appears between the pair.

"You're a bad, bad dog!"

Many, many people have enjoyed the book.

To spot-check the general validity of Chicago's assertion that "a comma normally appears between the pair of repeated adjectives, I ran a Google Books search for "cold cold ground"—and sure enough, the vast majority of matches include a comma after the first word cold.

This is in keeping with the common notion that the comma should be omitted when the first adjective modifies the second (as in "the freezing cold ground"), but that it should be included if both adjectives directly modify the following noun (as in "the cold, wet ground"). In the case of "cold, cold ground," the first instance of cold isn't modifying the second instance of the same word (as if the author were answering the question "What kind of cold was the ground?" with the explanation "Cold cold"); rather, both instances of cold are directly modifying ground, with the intensification of the sense of cold coming from the repetition of the idea of "cold ground."

It's just one style guide's opinion, of course, but I think that in this case Chicago has aligned its recommendation with the more common historical way of punctuating duplicate adjectives.

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